The worldwide male infertility crisis is beyond doubt. But the problem is, that no one knows why. A study was conducted in 2017 by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJ). They reported that sperm counts in western men has halved in the past 40 years.
According to the HUJ researchers, sperm counts in the west are falling at 1.4 % each year. And whilst these stark warnings are dismissed by experts, many believe we are facing a major biological and social problem.
Falling sperm counts are not the only issue
Testing for male infertility is not as simple as you might think. Sperm count is only one factor. Even with a full count, sperm may be still be unhealthy.
After sperm count, the current way of assessing sperm quality looks at motility i.e. how strongly the sperm can swim. However, this has been historically of limited success in separating fertile from infertile sperm.
Is there a better way to assess sperm?
Around 20% of men who require IVF to have children will have infertility problems where the cause is unknown. These men are typically put on a sperm enhancing regimen, which usually includes dietary and lifestyle changes. This happens for a year while they try to have a child before undergoing IVF.
So, this year of trying is a period of uncertainty for these men. This uncertainty prompted researchers at Washington State University, USA to look for more accurate means of testing for male infertility.
Dr Michael Skinner, one of the lead researchers said, “Male infertility is increasing worldwide. It is recognized as playing a key role in reproductive health and disease. Having a diagnostic test that says your male patient is infertile and viable treatment options would be immensely useful.”
Biomarkers in sperm DNA
Skinner and his team discovered infertile men have biomarkers attached to their sperm DNA that aren’t present in fertile men. And this discovery could eventually provide doctors with a reliable method of screening men for infertility. Not only that, but the test could also provide a means of figuring out the treatment options that will work best.
This is welcome news and could save couples the year of trying it usually takes before further investigations.
The researchers are now setting up a much larger clinical trial to test their male infertility diagnostic for potential commercialization.
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